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In the group, questions periodically recur about the
various types of cookware.  This FAQ is an attempt to answer the most
common of these questions in detail.  I like both facts and opinions
when I'm trying to make up my mind, so I've included some of each in
the FAQ. 

People buying their first decent cookware often ask what the "best"
cookware is.  This is like asking for the best vehicle; it depends on
whether you want to haul gardening supplies, drive across the country,
or compete in a race.  Similarly with cookware, different materials
have their advantages and disadvantages.  Many pans combine several
materials to achieve a good compromise.

Ideally, you probably want to have several different kinds of pans
made of a variety of materials - perhaps you would choose a cast iron
skillet, an enameled cast iron casserole, and tin-lined copper
saucepans.  It depends on what you like to cook and on personal
preference.  There isn't much point in getting a wok if you don't
stir-fry, or a double-boiler if you don't make fragile sauces.  

You many be tempted to get a set of cookware, because it is considerably
cheaper than buying each piece individually.  This isn't necessarily a
good idea, because sets force you to stick to one type of pan, and you
don't have much choice as to which pans you get.  Ask yourself if you
are going to use every pan that comes in the set; if not, it might be
cheaper just to get the ones you want.  Before you buy a set, I highly
recommend trying out a sample piece; getting one from a friend is ideal,
but many cookware lines sell one pan cheaply as a teaser to get you
hooked.  A small saute pan or skillet is commonly used this way.  If you
decide that a set is a good idea, and are not that experienced yet, you 
should almost certainly choose a fairly small collection.

It is very important to keep in mind that personal preference has as
much to do with finding the best cookware as anything else; you may
hate my favorite pan.  You may also balk at the prices; a single
piece of quality cookware can cost more than a big set of cheap pans.
Still, I think that good cookware is worth the investment, because it
will last a very long time.  If you are going to spend a lot of time
in the kitchen using your pans, don't buy something cheap that burns
everything you put in it and has the handle fall off just when you are
trying to impress your future spouse.  Good pans won't cook for you,
but bad ones can be a real menace.

Enough pontificating.  I'll start by listing the characteristics of the
various materials, and then move on to discuss different brands.  For
each brand, I've tried to include comments from people who have actually
used it personally.  Then there's a quick discussion of where to look in
order to get a decent price (mail order vs. your local stores).  I've
finished up with two topics that seem to be perennial in this group: the
care and feeding of cast iron pans, and how to buy a wok.


** Aluminum **

Aluminum has very good heat transfer, but it is quite reactive - it
flavors some dishes.  If you ever see a recipe call for non-reactive
pans, they mean "don't use aluminum or cast iron".  Aluminum has
gotten a bad reputation, because many cheap pans are made of it.  They
are usually thin, warp quickly, and are prone to hot spots (and hence
burning and sticking).  Don't buy one.  Not all aluminum pans are bad,
though; restaurant supply houses often carry thick aluminum pans for 
reasonable prices, and they can be a good deal.

An alternative to pure aluminum is anodized aluminum.  This is a nice
cooking medium; it is not nearly as reactive, and you can safely cook
almost anything in it.  You might avoid using it for, say, pickles,
and should not store something like tomato sauce in it overnight.  A
good thick anodized pot will transfer heat well and doesn't warp.

Recently there was some research that suggested a link between
Alzheimer's disease and aluminum.  This led to a great deal of anxiety
about aluminum pots, and a general sense that it would be best to avoid
them.  Subsequent research has shown that the original experiments were
badly flawed.  Further, there is no evidence that consumption of aluminum
leads to higher risk; if the link were there, you would expect workers in
aluminum factories to be contracting the disease in great numbers.  This
has not happened and there seems to be little cause for worry.

** Carbon Steel **

You will most likely encounter this material in a wok.  It is the
traditional choice in Asia, and should be treated just like cast iron.  A
good carbon steel wok should be solidly built and quite cheap; it will
last a lifetime if cared for properly.

** Cast Iron **

This is one of the oldest materials to cook in, and still one of the
best.  Because they are tremendously heavy, cast iron pans provide
very even heat.  It takes them a while to get hot, but once there they
even out any oscillations in heating.  Cast iron must be handled a
little differently than other materials; see the end of the FAQ for
more details.  A well seasoned pan is quite non-stick; ideal for
pancakes, etc.  You can also get cast iron as hot as you like, for
blackening or stir-fry.  

Cast iron is a particularly good material for two kinds of pans:
skillets and dutch ovens.  A Dutch oven is simply a big, heavy
casserole; cast iron works well, because it maintains an even heat
despite any temperature swings your oven may be subject to.  Another
good material for casseroles is enameled cast iron (see below).

There is some controversy among cast iron aficionado as to whether
the seasoning is better for pans with a rough or a smooth cooking 
surface.  I don't have any opinion on it, and have seen arguments
on both sides, so I will just mention the issue without trying to
resolve it.

Because cast iron is highly reactive, some people suggest that you
should avoid making acidic foods like tomato sauce in it.  At least
after it is seasoned, however, I think this advice is unnecessary.  I
have used cast iron pans to make hundreds of batches of tomato-based
sauces with no difficulty.

One final thing to know is that it is possible to shatter cast iron if
it falls onto a hard floor (though this is not that likely and I would
worry more about giving the floor a hefty dent).

A variant on the straight cast iron pan has an enamel lining.  This
eliminates the need for seasoning, the reactivity, and lets you clean
the pan any way you like.  You keep the heavy weight and even heating,
so this kind of pan is terrific for braising, casseroles, etc. - any
dish that wants to be heated evenly for a long time.  However, you do
lose the non-stick quality of the seasoning layer and such pans often
don't do very well at browning.  Unlike cast iron, these pans are
usually quite expensive.

** Copper **

The traditional choice for continental cooking.  Copper has excellent
heat transfer, so it is very responsive.  It has three problems: it is
expensive, a nuisance to clean, and poisonous.  Because of the last of
these, you never cook with a pure copper vessel.  You can use pure copper
for a few things, most notably a mixing bowl for egg whites; there is a
chemical reaction between copper and the albumen in the whites that makes
the whites froth more quickly and resist over-beating.  When no heat is
applied and contact is relatively short, the copper isn't dangerous to
use.  Although it is possible to cook with an unlined copper pan, if
acidic food is left in contact with it for any length of time and/or at
heat, a poisonous reaction can occur.  All cooking pans must therefore be
lined with something so that the food doesn't contact the copper.  See
the listings for tin, nickel, and stainless steel for more details.

Copper looks nice when it is bright and shining, but it doesn't stay
that way very long unless it is polished regularly.  Some people like
the look of unpolished copper, in which case copper is no harder to
clean than anything else, but if you feel differently you will need to
break out the polish periodically.

It is getting increasingly difficult to get good-quality copper pans;
when you find them, they usually cost the earth.  The best are imported
from Europe and have a thick copper layer.  The thicker, the better; good
ones are very heavy.  Some pans have a very thin copper layer on the
bottom; this is unlikely to have any effect on its cooking performance.
To get the benefit from copper, there should be a thick, heavy layer (a
few millimeters thick).  These pans usually come with either a brass or a
cast iron handle; the latter is the traditional choice, but is very
heavy.  The former can be a sign of a cheaply made pan but can also work
perfectly well.  The advantage of cast iron is that it doesn't heat up as
quickly, though both will get too hot to handle if the pot is left on
heat for an extended time.

** Glass **

Glass has one big advantage: you can see the food inside it while
cooking, without having to take off lids and allow heat and steam to
escape.  However, it has a lot of big countering disadvantages
(besides, I like to smell and taste the food as it cooks!).  Glass
doesn't handle extreme temperature changes well, so it can shatter if
you pour cold water into a hot pan.  Things stick to it.  If you drop
the pan, it will shatter.  Glass is also very heat retentive, so it
doesn't stop cooking when you turn off the heat.

Some types of cookware use glass lids; unless these are very well
made, they warp.  A badly fitting lid is an abomination, making the
pan useless for the many things that need to steam as they cook (like
rice).  I have been told that the glass lids of modern premium
cookware, like the new Calphalon non-stick series, do not have a
warping problem.

By the way, I am going to be sloppy and use "glass" to mean both glass
and ceramic materials (like Pyroceramic and Pyrex).  The latter are much
more resistant to cracking, so they are usually meant when discussing
"glass" cookware.

** Nickel **

In cookware, nickel is used as an alternative to tin and stainless steel
for lining copper pans.  It is much harder than tin, and will last a
great deal longer before wearing away, but cannot be replaced.  It is
also used in stainless steel, along with chromium.

** Stainless Steel **

Because stainless steel has lousy heat transfer, pans made of it alone
have to be very thin.  They are generally made cheaply, and warp in
very short order.  This is dismal, causing the most trouble on an
electric range where the pan will no longer contact the heating
element well.  The result: hot spots, burning, and sticking.

On the other hand, stainless has the very nice property that it does
not react to anything, so you can cook anything on it.  You can store
things in it for arbitrary amounts of time, too.  It is quite tough,
and can be used with metal utensils.  It is also relatively easy to
clean; if a mirror finish is applied, it isn't non-stick but does
quite well.  

Many high-quality lines of cookware have a thin layer of stainless
steel on the inside; this gives all the benefits of stainless with
none of the disadvantages.  Some people argue that lining copper with
stainless reduces its responsiveness somewhat, but I would imagine
that anyone who can tell the difference is well past the point where
this FAQ is of any interest.

One slight warning: apparently it is possible to pit a stainless lining
if it left in contact with undissolved salt for an extended period of
time.  I think this is unlikely to be a problem in practice but I mention
it for completeness.

** Teflon, and friends **

Many cooks like Teflon-lined pans because food doesn't stick to them.
This is particularly important to people on low-fat diets, because
they can use little or no oil in cooking - if you saute without oil in
most pans, you will have to deal with a lot of sticking problems.

The problem with Teflon (and the reason I never use non-stick pans)
is that it doesn't last too long.  You must use wooden utensils not
to gouge the layer, and Teflon breaks down around 500 degrees.  If
you heat a Teflon pan very hot, the layer starts to turn into gas (an
inert one that won't hurt you, but can kill birds).  Even if you
treat it well, the layer will gradually wear away - every now and
then, you must throw away your pan and get a new one.  

There are a variety of similar materials (like Silverstone and T-Fal);
some of them are supposed to be more durable than Teflon.  There has
been a recent trend towards high-quality expensive cookware with
non-stick surfaces that have a long (up to lifetime) guarantee.  Most
of these are also safe to use with metal utensils.  Some examples are
the new Calphalon line, Circulon, and Scanpan.

** Tin **

Traditionally, copper pans are coated with a tin lining.  This kind of
pan isn't so popular any more, though it is arguably the best
construction of all.  One problem: tin is quite soft, and if you get a
pan like this too hot the lining will melt.  Even if you don't do
that, with use the tin layer wears away and the copper is exposed.
Because copper is poisonous, you must have the pan retinned when this
happens.  It is getting more difficult to find a place that does
tinning, but you can still manage if you poke around.  Tin also
discolors with use, and you will need to give it a good scrub with
scouring powder now and then.  Nowadays copper pans are often coated
with nickel or more commonly stainless steel.


A few things to think about when you are looking at a pan:
 - check to make sure the lid fits snugly
 - see whether the handle is oven-safe; most cheap and many expensive pans 
   with plastic or wood handles can't be put in the oven 
 - see how well the handle is connected to the pan - rivets, welding, or
   a screw that can come loose
 - put something heavy in the pan; see if the handle is still comfortable to
   hold and the balance feels good
 - see if the pan falls over when nearly empty because the handle is too heavy
   and/or too long
 - if it is a big pan, check if it has some kind of handle on both sides;
   otherwise it will be hard to carry when full
 - make sure the bottom of the pan is *flat* if you are cursed with an
   electric range; otherwise it will heat very poorly


After giving a fairly objective description of each brand, I list some
positive and negative comments from people who have used them.

** All-Clad **

All-Clad sells four different lines of cookware.  All but one of them are
made of a three layer sandwich of materials; they each have a stainless
lining and a pure aluminum core that extends throughout the body of the
pan.  The third material is what differentiates them.  Construction in
all cases is very good and all have a lifetime warranty.

1) LTD
  This is the exception; it has four layers.  The outer two layers are a
second aluminum layer and an anodized aluminum alloy finish.  The handles
are stainless steel and connected with stainless rivets.  Not dishwasher
safe - discolors the exterior.  I have been told that if oil drips get
cooked on the outside, they can be difficult to remove.  I haven't had
the problem, but it is probably a good idea to be sure you have cleaned
the outside thoroughly after use.

Pro: "Leaving aside copper, this is my favorite line of cookware.  We
have several pieces and they receive intensive use.  I am very happy with
them and would recommend them without reservation." - me


2) MasterChef
  The outer layer is a brushed aluminum alloy, which is not as hard as the
LTD layer so it isn't quite as scratch resistant.  Dishwasher safe, though
it will darken and need occasional polishing.



3) Cop-R-Chef
  The outer layer is copper; with copper pans becoming less common, this
line is one of the few that are readily available.  Handles are brass
with stainless rivets.  Dishwasher safe, though it will darken and need
occasional polishing.


Con: "While these are fine pans, I don't think they are a good value.
They cost more than other excellent cookware, and the amount of copper is
not enough to make a significant difference in the cooking performance.
If you want a copper pan and are willing to pay the premium, get one that
has a thick enough layer to make a difference."  - me

4) Stainless

Outer layer is stainless steel, with stainless handles and rivets.  Dishwasher



** Analon **

A non-stick line that is better than Silver Stone or Teflon in its
durability, though it will eventually require replacing.  They have a
glass lid, which is guaranteed against breakage for 10 years.

Pro: "It's not quite as heavy as All Clad but it's several steps above 
      Silver Stone. You feel you're getting good value for your money 
      with it." - Robert L. Williams 


** Bourgeat **

A premium line of copper cookware from France, used by Jacques Pepin on
his show.  These are extremely expensive pans ($182 for a 2 qt. saute
pan) that are beautifully built and very heavy.  They are 2.5 mm copper
with cast iron handles, lined with stainless steel.

Pro: "I find they heat very evenly because of the thick copper (even
      the walls of the pots are fairly thick), they can be used in the
      oven without any problems, they're extremely durable (perhaps that's
      why restaurants use 'em)." - Tim Bieling 


** Calphalon **

These are widely available; they are made of thick anodized aluminum.
The handles are riveted on, and almost all of the pans are oven safe.
The few exceptions have wood bonded to the handles to make them easier
to handle, and are usually stir-fry pans that you would be unlikely to
put in the oven anyway.  Construction quality is excellent and the
pans come with a lifetime warranty.  You can use metal utensils, and
can cook almost anything in Calphalon.  It would probably be best not
to store anything highly reactive in them, however.

Cleaning Calphalon is fairly easy, though you should be careful to
clean it thoroughly as any residue can cause sticking.  It is not
dishwasher safe.  One caution: apparently hard water can leave deposits
on Calphalon that are hard to clean.  I've never had to deal with this
problem so I can't comment.

If you find the price of Calphalon prohibitive, you can try a cheaper
version (like Magnalite Pro).  Also, try your local restaurant supply
houses which sometimes sell similar pans much more cheaply.  Note that
most restaurant lines are of ordinary, unanodized aluminum, which is
not at all the same thing.

Pro: "I use Calphalon constantly; it cooks well, feels nice, has good
      balance, and ought to last forever.  I recommend it highly for both
      traditional pans and for their stir-fry pan, which I unexpectedly
      fell in love with."  - me

Con: "The handles do get hot quickly, so you need to keep a pot holder
      or towel handy - or use a handle cover." - me

** Calphalon Non-Stick **

One of the new lines of high-quality non-stick cookware, which comes with
a lifetime warranty on the lining.  Anodized aluminum pans with a bonded
non-stick layer; lids are glass and handles are stainless.  Oven safe to
500 degrees.  These are not safe to use with metal utensils.



** Chantal **

Made of heavy carbon steel covered in enamel, with glass lids and
stainless steel handles.  The enamel covering eliminates the need to
season and makes clean-up easy.  Dishwasher safe.



** Circulon **

** Cuisinart **

These are very well built pans with a stainless inner and outer lining
and a thick copper disk sandwiched in the bottom.  Handles are stainless
and welded on to the pan.  They come with a lifetime warranty and are 
dishwasher safe.
[Note: apparently there is/was a line of this cookware with wooden
handles; one person warned me that they were subject to charring from
heat coming up the sides of the pan.  I haven't seen these pans,
though, so I suspect they are not currently available in the US.]

Pro: "I find the Cuisinart to be very well constructed, they conduct heat 
      very well, very little sticks to them, and they are easy to clean."
     - (Carol Alvin)


** Cuprinox **

This is a premium line of copper cookware which seems to be made in both
Switzerland and France.  It is lined with stainless (and perhaps also
nickel).  It is very expensive, but is a beautiful sight and heavy as the
dickens - it weighs as much as cast iron.

Pro: "If you are going to get a copper pan, then do yourself a favor
      and get one like this.  I'd like a few pieces, someday." - me

Con: "If you have wrist problems, or are looking for a skillet that you
      can toss food in, forget Cuprinox.  Even the modest sized pans weigh
      several pounds." - me

** Faberware Millenium **

A non-stick line; pans are aluminum core with stainless steel outer
covering; handles, and lid are stainless.  The lining has a 20 year
warranty and is safe with metal utensils.  Dishwasher safe.



** Grande Cuisine **

This is a premium line from Williams Sonoma, which is similar to Cuisinart
in that it is stainless with a copper disk sandwiched in the bottom.

Pro: "It's heavy, attractive, nice handles and lids, and I've had nothing 
      but good luck with it." - Colleen Wirth


** Le Creuset **

This is the best known example of enameled cast iron.  The construction
is first rate; pans are guaranteed for 101 years.  You do have to be a
bit careful because the enamel can chip, but with reasonable care they
will last lifetimes.  There is some debate whether the pans are worth
their expensive prices, since there are much cheaper alternatives with
similar construction (like Danish-made Copco and some Korean version sold
by Macy's).  I doubt if you would be unhappy with one after you bought
it, though.

One disadvantage to these pans is that they are not good for browning;
you might need to start with a second pan if you were making a roast that
needed an initial browning.  I'm told that some of the Le Creuset pieces
like the skillets have a special coating which browns and caramelizes well
(called "glissemail).  So you still need to use two pans, but they can
both be LC (if you bought a set, for example).

If you were only getting one piece, I'd make it a French Oven (a.k.a. 

Pro: "Better than most anything else you can buy, plus they are 
     indestructible."  - Thomas Krueger

Con: "Go to Macy's and get their Korean made knock-offs of Le Creuset for
     about 1/3 the price.  Every bit as good." -

** Lodge **

One of the standard lines of cast iron cookware.  Inexpensive, well
made, and will last forever if treated properly.



** Magnalite Pro **

Anodized aluminum pans, like Calphalon, but significantly cheaper.  The
handles and lids are aluminum and the handles are riveted with
aluminum.  Not dishwasher safe, though the lids are.



** Mauviel **

Classic tin-lined copper pans from France.  Come with both cast iron and
brass handles; the copper is 3mm thick.



** Revereware **

A well respected lower-priced cookware company that has been around for a
long time.  The budget pans are an old standby for new households.  The
handles are not metal, so the pots are not oven safe, and the join
between handle and pot is not riveted so it can come loose.


Con: "The current pans don't impress me with their durability and they aren't
      very thick, so they don't heat as evenly as I'd like."  - me

** Revereware Pro-line **

The premium line is entirely different, similar in construction to the
Cuisinart pans.  They are stainless outside, with a thick copper disk
on the bottom.  Prices are significantly cheaper than Cuisinart.

Pro: "The ProLine is, IMHO, just as good if not better than Cuisnart."

Con: "The handles were horrible to hold--extremely uncomfortable."
     - Colleen Wirth  

** Scanpan **

A relatively new line of cookware from Denmark with a non-stick lining
guaranteed for life.  The pan is made of pressure-cast aluminum and the
lids are glass.  The lining is safe for metal utensils and the pans
are oven safe to 500 degrees.  Handles are Bakelite, so they should
stay cool during stovetop cooking.

Pro: "ScanPan surfaces have a couple of advantages relative to Teflon.  
      The coating is very durable - you can use metal tools.  Even steel 
      wool pads, although I find that plastic pads are sufficient.  Some 
      sticking of food residues is often desirable, as when making 
      gravies and sauces by deglazing.  Finally, ScanPan warranties their 
      products for life. "
      - eacj@TC.Cornell.EDU (Julian Vrieslander)

Con:  "In my experience, ScanPan does not release as well as polymer coated 
       pans (Teflon, etc.).  You cannot tilt the pans and expect food to 
       slide out without a trace remaining.  But ScanPans clean up very 
       easily, especially if you follow the recommendations for putting 
       water in the pans while still hot."
       - eacj@TC.Cornell.EDU (Julian Vrieslander)

** Vision **

This is an inexpensive line of glass pans from Corning.  They are not
very highly regarded in this group.

Pro: "They are inexpensive and you can watch your food cook without
      disturbing it." 
     - me, reaching for something positive to say

Con: "*Everything* sticks to them, and subsequently burns on." 
      - Richard Kershenbaum  (speaking for many other people who have 
        complained about the same problem - even with pasta)

** Wagner **

Another standard line of cast iron pans.  Same comments as for Lodge.

** Zani **

I haven't seen these; according to my net informant, they are
stainless exterior with an aluminum sandwich base, welded handles,
mirror finish outside and brushed inside.  The price is comparable to

Pro: "Lids fit very well.  Fluids pour wonderfully thanks to a great
     lip design (the main reason I dislike Calphalon is that pouring is a
     mess).  Lids are heavy in comparison with those of other manufacturers
     (other than the glass lid types).  The pans are beautiful.  Mine are
     about seven years old and still going strong."
    - Mike McNally (

Con: "Handles get hot.  Not non-stick in any real way.  Skillet geometry not
      quite optimal (the sides are too vertical, but just a little).  Not 
      widely available (Nieman-Marcus carries them, as do some up-scale 
      cookware outlets; Williams Sonoma does not)."
    - Mike McNally (


You can buy many of these pans mail order, which often yields a
substantial savings.  However, I've found that if I wait for a major
sale, I can get them for even less at a local store.  The department
stores run regular sales (post-Christmas, etc.) when they sell premium
cookware for large discounts.  Gourmet stores sometimes discount as
well, though usually not as reliably or as much.  You can also get
good prices from warehouse-style stores like the Price Club or Whole
Earth Access.  It's nice to be able to pick up the pans, see how they
are weighted, etc.  If you scope the pans out at your local store and
then buy them mail order, try not to be even more tacky by bugging the
salespeople with a lot of questions.

Mail order sources:

  PO Box 7456
  San Francisco, CA, 94120 
  (800) 541-1262
  - there are also WS retail stores across the country

A Cook's Wares
  211 37th St.
  Beaver Falls, PA, 15010
  (412) 846-9490

Chef's Catalog 
  3215 Commercial Avenue, Northbrook, IL 
  (800) 338-3232

Quality Cookware and Cutlery
  P.O. Box 368
  Scott, LA 70583
  (800) 446-9610

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